Teaching Profession

AFT, Partners Push National Day of Action to Oppose ‘Privatization’ of Schooling

By Stephen Sawchuk — December 06, 2013 2 min read
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The American Federation of Teachers and several partners will launch a “Day of Action to reclaim public education” on Monday Dec. 9, with events taking place in 100-plus locations.

AFT reportedly spent more than $1 million on advertising buys promoting the campaign, which will push against the “privatization” of schools by turning charters or school turnarounds over to private operators. (It isn’t clear whether this refers to for-profit managers only or nonprofit ones as well.) And the campaign will take a stand against excessive standardized testing, making the case that policy should be set by parents, teachers, and school staff rather than by “corporate executives, entrepreneurs
, or philanthropists.” It also will endorse community schools and wraparound services as more promising solutions.

The groups joining the AFT include the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, community-organizing groups, other labor unions, and a Brown University think tank and advocacy organization, according to AFT’s website.

The National Education Association is also involved but its spending is smaller, Politico reports. That might be because membership losses at the NEA have cut back the amount it can spend on messaging and communications, as I’ve reported.

UPDATED, 12:36 p.m.: NEA folks contacted me to assert that the union’s membership losses aren’t connected to its spending on this media campaign. It also underscored its affiliates’ and leaders’ involvement in several of the events. NEA’s vice president and secretary-treasurer will be headlining events in Austin, Texas, while NEA President Dennis Van Roekel will participate in the Des Moines, Iowa day of action.

There is a distinctly progressive, anti “corporate education reform” flavor to the agenda, to borrow the Diane Ravitch formulation. Interestingly, not all of it completely aligns with AFT’s historic policy perspectives. For example, the campaign’s guiding-principles document opposes mayoral control, but AFT’s largest affiliate backed that governance arrangement in New York in 2002. Similarly, the AFT was once open to the idea of test scores being part of teachers’ evaluations but has recently taken a much harder line on testing, referring to “test obsession” and “test fixation” in many of its press releases.

Activities will include marches, rallies, press conferences, and meetings to promote the agenda. The activities run the gamut from statehouse rallies to support increased school funding in Boise, Idaho to the more symbolic, as in Chicago, where teachers will be giving city alderman lumps of coal or candy canes.

It’s not clear whether the campaign will have the effect the partners desire of changing the dialogue around education policy. Other similar events, such as the Save Our Schools march, ended up weakened by internal politics. But we will see what this new push yields.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.

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